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Monday, 6 August 2007

Reverse Culture Shock Returning From Korea

After returning home from Korea and living in Canada for the past week and a half, I'm going to write about the "oddities" I noticed immediately after stepping off the plane in Victoria. I got inspired by Carl after he wrote about his reverse culture shock returning back from Hong Kong.

The phases of culture shock are as follows:
  • The "Honeymoon Phase" - During this period the differences between the old and new culture are seen in a romantic light, wonderful and new. For example, in moving to a new country, an individual might love the new foods, the pace of the life, the people's habits, the buildings and so on.
  • The negotiation phase - After a few days, a few weeks, or a few months, minor differences between the old and new culture are resolved. One may long for food the way it is prepared "back home," may find the pace of life too fast or slow, may find the people's habits annoying, etc.
  • The "Everything is OK" phase - Again, after a few days, weeks or months, one grows accustomed to the new culture's differences and develops routines. At this point, an individual no longer reacts to the new culture positively or negatively, because it no longer feels like a new culture. An individual becomes concerned with basic living again, as they were in their original culture.
  • Reverse Culture Shock - Returning to one's home culture after growing accustomed to a new one can produce the same effects as described above.
The last phase, Reverse Culture Shock is what I'm going to talk about today. I remember one of the new teachers telling me a story about his friend who returned home to the USA from Korea and felt weird being there. I thought to myself, "naw, I won't have that problem!" Well, I was wrong! Let's get started! Here are some differences I noticed once I got home:
  • Seeing so many different kinds of people--shapes, colors, and sizes. There is so much diversity here--also, I never realized how many seniors reside in Victoria (the retirement capital of Canada)!
  • The fashion: wait a minute, where did all the high heels, mini skirts, and summer dresses go? Multiple layers? No more campus couples? I did notice that the "baby doll" look is catching on here, along with the layers and stripes (and even neon shoes).
  • The language: in Korea we didn't understand people's conversations. It was just "extra noise"...after landing we could hear everyone's conversations--even ones we didn't want to! The funniest is when we were on the bus (I sold my car before we left) and listening to all sorts of funny things people say.
  • The manners: Canadians are a polite bunch--sometimes too polite! I was inside a Thrifty Foods grocery store and I moved my cart literally two inches to the side to give an old lady more room. I wasn't even close to hitting her, but she noticed what I did and said "Why thank you!". I was shocked...in Korea, I would be getting my heels bashed in at Costco!
  • Walking down the street: umm...can someone please tell me why people are actually moving to avoid running into me? When I'm approaching someone, we both move to get out of each other's way. If someone even slightly graces me, I will hear some sort of extended apology.
  • Tipping in restaurants: WTF?! In Korea, tipping is not mandatory. In Canada, it's normal to tip 10-20%, depending on where you are dining at. On top of this, meals are expensive after tax. Man, does it ever add up! You're looking to spend almost $10 each after tax and tip for a decent meal. In Korea, $10 would feed two people pretty well.
  • Seeing English signage: Umm...what happened to entire buildings plastered in Korean signage, from the windows to the walls? I can read again!
  • Life is slow: after coming from a busy metropolis of 12-14 million people, life on the island is SLOW! I'm used to a jam packed day running around like a chicken with its head cut off. Here it's relaxing and very laid back...too...laid...back...ZZZZzzzzzz
  • Red lights are no longer just a suggestion: this one is huge. When I see that little green man at crosswalks, I can be confident (most of the time at least!) that cars, taxis, buses (white gloved ajoshis for life, baby), and the non-existent delivery men on scooters will STOP for me!
  • Personal space: coming from one of most densely populated cities in the world to seeing large areas of open space is WEIRD. Where did all the apartment towers go? Why don't condo towers here have numbers painted down the sides? It was really weird to see so much open space, especially the greenery. Air is so fresh here, especially with the ocean breeze. AH-SAAA! I sure do miss smelling someone's random body odor on the subway though...
  • The internet...oh wait...I'm still on the internet, so that hasn't changed. D'oh!
Anyways, I'm happy to be home and enjoying the summer with friends and family (and eating good food). Before we end, take a look at the size of this Omurice plate...it's the "Charisma Omurice" for 16,900w ($17US) from Omuto Tomato.

What are you experiences with either culture shock or reverse culture shock? Fill me in!


Aaron said...

Oh christ, omurice. For some reason, and despite knowing better, I still order the stuff from time to time. After about two bites I remember that it tastes like a plastic toy dipped in a vat of grease, topped with a bottle of ketchup. But at least it doesn't have radishes in it.

[Please remind me of this post next time I get a notion to order omurice.]

Lex Vanderwal said...

When I returned to Holland after a three months stay in Seoul I saw some people playing African drums and thought "Oh no, not Samulnori again". When I saw the blue plastic flower stands my first thought was "Oh? The soju tents are opening early tonight!" My friends found is very funny that I was bowing al the time. It took a while to get Korea out of my system.

Gdog said...

Aaron: haha...hilarious man. Yes, omurice looks tasty, but it's just rice and egg covered in sauce. After eating it I'm ready for lunch again!

lex: lovin' the blog name dude! ;)
It's funny though, everything I see or do here I'm constantly pulling out a Korea reference. My friends and family want to kill me.

Chris said...

My problem is saying "neh" (네) all the time when I return back to the states. People look at me really strange...


Anonymous said...

Hello! I happened to accidentally arrive on your blog. I read almost all of your "Places to See" list. I am going to Seoul soon and your blog was a great guide. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

These are real stuffs.

I doubt that even a Harvard professor could give a comprehensive list as you on culture shock based on similar experiences.

Gdog said...

chris: haha, that's hilarious. the first restaurant we entered after landing in vancouver, the moment I entered I started to say "an-young ha..." then I stopped myself in mid-sentence!

anonymous: thanks for visiting! :)

anonymous: thanks for commenting...I should do a follow up post!

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